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The Gendarme's Mark T. Mustian on a Corollary to the Franzen/Piccoult-Weiner Controversy

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As we noted on MondayMark T. Mustian's The Gendarme tackles those most difficult of subjects for fiction: genocide, war, cruelty, and love. Narrated by the 92-year-old Emmett Conn, a Turkish immigrant to the United States, the novel follows Conn from the present into the past and a welter of ever-clearer memories of the protagonist's role in the Armenian genocide in 1915. The novel comes with glowing blurbs from the likes of Robert Olen Butler, Bob Shacochis, Sandra Dallis, and Atom Egoyan, and already has been picked up for reprint in several countries, including Greece, Spain, Brazil, Italy, Israel, and France.

We've heard from Mustian about his omnivoracious reading and on research and experience. Here's his final piece, on part-time writers. Thanks to Mustian for a week of interesting posts.

The Seriousness of the Part-Time Writer
by Mark T. Mustian

One of the corollaries of the Franzen/Piccoult-Weiner dustup goes unstated a bit: can one be treated as a serious writer if he or she does other things besides write?

In this day and age, all agree, few can make a living solely as a writer, particularly as a novelist. The most common co-profession is to teach, and many of our finest novelists can be found lurking in university English/creative writing departments. A certain compatibility factor exists there. But what of the rest of us? Is there a bias against writers who are also chefs, or actors, or stevedores, or in my case, lawyers/politicians? Can these folks really devote the single-mindedness to the craft necessary to put out top-quality literary fiction?

I’ll admit to a similar sort of bias, superficial as it may be. If I pick up a novel and the jacket describes the author as having worked in television for twenty years or having previously run a florist’s shop, I’m not expecting great writing. Sometimes I’m surprised. Should I be? One of the things I love about Wallace Stevens is that by day he served as an insurance company executive (can it get more left-brained than that?) Walker Percy was a physician. Heck, even Shakespeare was a producer and actor. Modern examples abound, too: Chris Adrian, Abraham Verghese, James McBride.

I’ll argue that these disparate co-jobs add needed twist to literary fiction. It doesn’t all have to be MFA-speak. In my service as a city commissioner, a number of the other commissioners are full-time commissioners (they’re generally independently wealthy or have taken a poverty vow). I’m not. I have a full-scale law practice. I feel that it keeps me more grounded, that I don’t become disassociated with the daily grind of the regular guy (okay, I admit, lawyers are probably not regular guys). But I have to make payroll. I know what it’s like to have to deal with bureaucracy from the citizen side. I think those experiences make me a better commissioner.

And I write. Can I write well? Read my new novel The Gendarme, and judge for yourself. When I read a review that begins “Attorney Mustian...” I wonder: is the bias at work here? Is someone assuming, hmmm, clauses and wherefores? Maybe florists and stevedores and actors have something to say, something vital. And maybe, just maybe, some say it well.

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Huh. If I saw on a jacket that the author had worked in TV for twenty years, I'd be interested. Depends on where they worked, obviously, but there's some fantastic writing in television these days, and at least 5 tv writers and show runners I could name off the top of my head who I'd love to see a novel from.

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